Trotwood tapped for new municipal court facility

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

New Lebanon will lose Western Division court in 2020.

After years of study, officials announced Monday that Montgomery County will relocate its municipal court’s Western Division office from New Lebanon to Trotwood, news that came as a relief to police chiefs fearing the court would consolidate operations on the other side of the county and hinder their residents’ ability to get court services.

“This is ensuring that there’s going to be an equal access to justice for all of our communities out here in the western district,” said Trotwood police Chief Erik Wilson.

The Western Division serves Brookville, Clay Twp. Farmersville, Jackson Twp., Jefferson Twp., New Lebanon, Perry Twp., Phillipsburg, Trotwood and Verona. The Eastern Division serves primarily Huber Heights and Riverside. Court records show about 55 percent of the Western Division cases involve Trotwood citizens.

Brookville Police Chief Douglas Jerome was also one of the department leaders pushing back this summer against a possible plan to consolidate all operations in Huber Heights, home to the Eastern Division. Jerome said moving all activities to Huber Heights would have doubled his department’s distance for court services — to more than 17 miles from Brookville.

“This move couldn’t be better for my operations and my officers,” Jerome said. “I know that the other police chiefs here today feel tthe same way. Having a court in Trotwood will help us do our job efficiently and effectively.”

To facilitate the move, the Trotwood Community Improvement Corporation intends to exercise an option to purchase the Trotwood branch of the Dayton Metro Library at 651 E. Main St., said Russ Joseph, Montgomery County clerk of courts.

In early 2020, the library branch will move into a new building a few blocks away at 855 E. Main St. The new court facility is expected to open in mid-2020.

The county also announced additional investments and improvements for the Eastern Division office.

“Both locations were built 20 years ago and in need of much renovation,” Joseph said. “With long-term leases coming due, the county undertook a review of court caseloads, and we determined that our best option was to keep the Eastern Division in Huber Heights, but look for a more convenient location for our Western Division court.”

A lack of public transportation options to and from New Lebanon was also a major factor in the decision, said Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley.

“Having our court located where citizens can easily access public transportation ensures that folks can make it to their court date without undue burden,” Foley said.

About 17 people are currently employed at the court in New Lebanon. While most of the positions are likely to be moved to Trotwood, some could wind up in Huber Heights depending on the needs two years from now, Joseph said.

Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald said the future investment will bring additional services to residents and help revitalize neighborhoods.

“We are thrilled to have both a new courthouse and a new library facility coming our way in the next couple of years,” she said.

The county completed two recent surveys: one a caseload and staffing study and another that assessed the physical conditions of the court buildings.

In 2016, a total of 3,235 civil case plaintiffs and defendants and 5,014 criminal defendants used the Western Division. The same count respectively for the Eastern Division was 3,281 and 7,053, according to the results of a National Center for State Courts study.

The study’s analysis showed the facilities would have sufficient future space with some modifications, but “with respect to caseload, the projected future level of filings could easily be accommodated within a single facility, assuming it is adequately sized and designed.”

Case filings throughout the system dropped from 22,139 in 2002 to 14,923 in 2016, down almost a third. Those filed in the Western Division dropped 51.2 percent during that time while falling only 4.8 percent in the Eastern Division, where a majority of the cases were filed in 2016. Caseloads are expected to continue to decrease, as much as 59 percent by 2040, according the study.

The combined budget, not including court staff, for the county municipal courts in 2018 was $1,878,663, with $974,872 going to operate the court in New Lebanon and $903,791 for the Huber Heights location, according to the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts office.

A long-term lease for the New Lebanon court of $135,936 was paid off at the end of last year. A $135,936 lease on the Huber Heights building will be paid off this month. An additional $85,042 will be spent this year on the New Lebanon building and $83,200 in Huber Heights for other costs including janitorial services, building security and basic maintenance, according to the courts clerk.

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